24 February 2015


Morphy -- Lowenthal, London 1858

The fourteenth match game between Paul Morphy (1837-1884) and Johann Jacob Lowenthal (1810-1876) is an instructive game that highlights Morphy's positional understanding, which was decades ahead of his time. As Valeri Beim notes, this game is a "treasure even by modern-day standards" (Paul Morphy: A Modern Perspective [2005], 108).

Over the past week, I have played through this game several times. First, I looked through without any assistance and found the zugzwang. Then, I probed the database for some perspective on the opening.* Third, I entered variations that highlight tactical and strategic alternatives. Variations were expanded and contracted as I read through Beim's comments on the game (106-108). Finally, a couple of lines were checked with Stockfish.

Morphy,Paul -- Loewenthal,Johann Jacob [C77]
London m London (14), 21.08.1858

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.d4

This game was the first one recorded with this sharp line.

5...exd4 6.e5

6.0–0 is also possible, and is vastly more popular.

6...Ne4 7.0–0 Nc5

7...Be7 is also popular.


8.Bb3 Nxb3 9.axb3 Be7 10.Re1 0–0 11.Nxd4 Nxd4 12.Qxd4 was drawn in 52 moves in Lochte,T (2165) -- Hiermann,D (2190), Germany 1996.


8...bxc6 appears twice in the database, played only by relatively weak players (albeit close to my level). Lowenthal's choice to activate the queen must be the correct idea.


It is interesting that this position has been reached a few times with White on the move, that is, via a different move order that excludes Bb5-a4.

9...Ne6 10.Nxe6 Bxe6 11.Qe2

Black to move


"This natural looking move is the root of all Black's troubles" (Beim, 106). He suggests 11...Qd4.

12.Nc3 Qe7 13.Ne4 h6

The first time that I played through this game, this move looked strange. But a few seconds of analysis revealed that it was necessary to prevent Bg5.

13...Bb6 14.Bg5

a) 14...f6? 15.exf6 Qf7 (15...gxf6 16.Bxf6 Qf8 17.Rad1+-) 16.fxg7 Qxg7 17.Bf6+-.

b) 14...Qd7 15.Rad1 Qc8 would be awkward for Black.


"A outstanding positional decision" (Beim, 106). Beim notes that depriving Black of the bishop pair gives White the advantage on the dark squares.

14...Bxe3 15.Qxe3 Bf5

15...0–0–0? 16.Qa7.

15...b6!? 16.f4 0–0–0.


"Morphy bravely sacrificed a pawn for a small, but lasting initiative" (Beim, 106).

16.f4 Bxe4 17.Qxe4 0–0–0 gives White a slight advantage

16...Bxc2 17.f4

Black to move



a) 17...Bg6? 18.f5 Bh7 and White is clearly better.

b) 17...Bh7!?

c) 17...0–0 18.f5 Qg5 19.Qc3 Ba4 20.e6 with an initiative for White.

d) 17...Qb4 is Stockfish's choice.


White threatens to play 19.Qc3

Hypothetical Position

I looked at some alternatives to this move.

a) 18...Ba4 is easily refuted. 19.exf7+ Kxf7 20.Qc3 Bb5 21.Rfe1 Qf6 22.Qb3+ Kg7 23.a4.

b) 18...0–0 leads to a maze of complications that mostly seem better for White.
19.Rf2 Bf5 20.Nxf5 gxf5 21.Qb3

b1) 21...b6 22.Re1

b2) 21...fxe6 22.Qxb7 Rfb8 23.Qxc6 Rb6 24.Qc3

b3) 21...Qxe6 22.Qxb7 Qd6 (22...Rfb8 23.Qxc7) 23.Qb3.

c) 18...0–0–0 19.Rac1 Bd3 20.Qa7 Qxe6 21.Rcd1 (21.Rfd1?! Beim points out that this is the wrong rook 21...c5 22.Qa8+ Kd7 [Beim's line continues 23.Rxd3+ Ke7 24.Rxd8 Qe3+–+] But the computer offers 23.Qxb7 when White seems slightly better) 21...Qc4 22.Rf3 with a clear advantage for White.

19.Nxf5 gxf5 20.exf7+ Kxf7 21.Qh3 Qf6

21...Rad8 22.Qxf5+

22.Rae1 Rhe8 23.Re5

Morphy simply puts his rook on a secure square on an open file.

23...Kg6 24.Rfe1 Rxe5 25.Rxe5 Rd8

Lowenthal grabs the other open file for his rook.


This check gains a tempo to make possible White's next move.

26...Kh7 27.h3 Rd7

Lowenthal might have held the position with 27...Rd5 28.Re8 Qg7 29.Qh4 Rd1+ 30.Kh2 Rd2 31.Re7 Rxg2+ 32.Kh1 Rg1+=.

28.Qe3 b6 29.Kh2

"Morphy, always energetic, proceeds to straightforwardly strengthen the position, knowing that the necessary level of coordination between his pieces has not yet been attained" (Beim, 107). The italics are Beim's. Throughout Paul Morphy: A Modern Perspective, he emphasizes Morphy's understanding of dynamic play, piece coordination, and development. He contends that focus on Morphy's play against weak opponents has led to a distorted view of his strengths. His play against the top players of the day, including Lowenthal, show that he possessed an intuitive understanding of many concepts that would be articulated over the course of the next century. Morphy anticipated not only Steinitz, but also Nimzovich.

Black to move

29...c5 30.Qe2 Qg6 31.Re6



31...Qg8! might hold 32.Qe5 Rf7 33.Re8 Qg7 and no White breakthrough is in sight.

31...Qf7? 32.Qe5 c4 33.Re8+-.

32.Qh5 Rd5 33.b3

This is the position that I posted in "Zugzwang!" earlier this week.


33...Qf8 34.Qg6+ Kh8 35.Re8+-
33...a5 34.a4 and still zugzwang.

34.Rxa6 Rd6 35.Qxf5+

35.Rxd6 cxd6 36.Qxf5+ Kh8 37.a4 bxa4 38.bxa4 should be winning.

35...Qg6 36.Qxg6+ Kxg6

White to move


Beim gives a long line that Morphy could have calculated leading to certain victory:

37.Rxd6+ cxd6 38.Kg3 b4 39.Kf3 d5 40.g4 Kf6 41.h4 Ke6 42.h5 Kf6 43.Ke3 Ke6 44.g5 hxg5 45.fxg5 Kf5 46.g6 Kf6 47.Kf4 d4 48.Kg4 Kg7 49.Kg5 d3 50.h6+ Kg8 51.Kf6 d2 52.h7+.


37...c6 38.a4 bxa4 39.Rxa4 Rd3
(39...Rd4 40.Rxd4 cxd4 41.Kg3 h5 42.h4 c5 43.Kf3 Kf5 44.g3 Kf6 45.Ke4 Ke6 46.b4+-)

38.g4 c6 39.Kg3 h5 40.Ra7 hxg4 41.hxg4 Kf6 42.f5 Ke5 43.Re7+ Kd6 44.f6 Rb8 45.g5 Rf8 46.Kf4 c4 47.bxc4 bxc4

White to move

48.Kf5 c3 49.Re3 Ra8 50.Rd3+ Kc7 51.Rxc3 1–0

I will need to go through this game again and again. I may return to it in a few weeks or months.

Tomorrow morning, I begin a week on Barnes -- Morphy, London 1858, first match game.

*I was able to spend a few minutes discussing the first few opening moves with FM Jim Maki, who has recently moved to our area and offers game analysis to youth players at area scholastic tournaments. I direct these tournaments. For the first few minutes each round, before any games finish, Jim and I get a few minutes to talk. Then children arrive with their notated games to get superb instruction and a raffle ticket.

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